In what could potentially be the hottest year on record, the news from West Antarctica has followed a predictably perilous trend:
In May, Planet Experts reported that two new studies had been released confirming that six glaciers in West Antarctica were in a state of “irreversible retreat.” The lead author of NASA’s report said that the situation was so dire it had “passed the point of no return.”
In August, the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research said discharge from Antarctic ice could cause “significantly higher” sea level rise than that predicted by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
In September, the European Space Agency’s CryoSatellite recorded an “unprecedented rate” of volume loss from both the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets.
In October, data collected from three satellites showed that so much ice had been lost from Antarctic glaciers between 2009 and 2012 (about 204 billion tons per year) that the Earth’s gravitational field had shifted.
On December 5, a new study will be published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters that represents the culmination of 21 years of Antarctic analysis. Four sets of data (from NASA’s GRACE satellites, ICESat satellite, the European Space Agency’s Envisat satellite and the University of Utrecht’s Regional Atmospheric Climate Model)show that glaciers in the Amundsen Sea Embayment in West Antarctica are losing ice faster than anywhere else on the continent.
In the last decade alone, ice has increased its rate of melt by three times. Over the full 21-year period, however, 83 gigatons or 91.5 billion U.S. tons of ice has melted every year. As Phys Org explains, “By comparison, Mt. Everest weighs about 161 gigatons, meaning the Antarctic glaciers lost a Mt.-Everest’s-worth amount of water weight every two years over the last 21 years.”
In a moment of professional understatement, study co-author Isabella Velicogna told Phys Org, “The mass loss of these glaciers is increasing at an amazing rate.” Velicogna worked jointly with UC Irvine and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory on the study.